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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Dick Wagner: The Conscience of a Profession

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Richard “Dick” Wagner, who passed away in late March, was a founding partner of the Denver financial planning firm Sharkey, Howes, Wagner & Javer; president and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the International Association of Financial Planning; national committee member and president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners; a regular contributor to Financial Advisor magazine for over 10 years; contributor for “Money and Soul” column in the ICFP journal; and the author of arguably the most influential article in financial planning history, “To Think Like a CFP,” which appeared in the Journal of Financial Planning in 1989.

Wagner also gave hundreds of presentations at financial planning gatherings and wrote two books. Together with financial planner George Kinder (who later went on to launch the Kinder Institute of Life Planning), he founded what became the Nazrudin Project: a loosely organized group of financial planners dedicated to using financial planning to improve the lives of their clients beyond their balance sheets. In recognition of these and many other contributions to the profession, Wagner was presented with the P. Kemp Fain, Jr. award by the Financial Planning Association in 2003.

While most of us would consider the above CV to be more than a successful career, Wagner’s real contribution to the profession of financial planning was made behind the scenes: through his support, guidance and encouragement of literally hundreds of financial planners, many of whom went on to become leaders who have changed the direction of financial planning. What follows are the words of nine of those planners, talking about how Dick changed their lives and the profession itself.

David Maurice, CFP, is vice president of Carrier, Maurice & Webb Wealth Advisors in Johnson City, Tennessee:

“I don’t think I would know what financial planning is had it not been for Dick.

“I was so fortunate to be one of his mentees and to be around when somebody like him was doing something big in the world and in the profession. Everything I learned about financial planning is from the heart out, which was taught by Dick and George Kinder. Both of them affected me that way. And we have built our practice on that: looking at both the interior and the exterior of the clients. [...] I loved him dearly and will miss him very much.”

Judy Lau, CFP, is founder and president of Lau Associates in Greenville, Delaware. She was chairman of the board of the ICFP and a trustee of the National Foundation for Financial Planning:

“When I read Dick’s article ‘Think Like a CFP,’ it hit me like a jolt out of the blue. The things he wrote and the ideals he discussed changed the financial planning profession. He gave our core values a platform to be heard and started a conversation about those core values. Dick moved the puck in such a way that it allowed the ICFP to take off and run as a professional organization.”

Dave Yeske, Ph.D., CFP, is a partner at Yeske Buie Financial Advisors in San Francisco:

“What a loss to the profession. Dick was a personal friend and deeply affected my approach to financial planning. When I entered the profession in 1990, most of my thinking was influenced by Dick’s article ‘Think Like a CFP.’ But he also connected with people one on one. He was a mentor to many financial planners.

“I think most people also think of him as a thinker, a leader and a writer. But he also had a very practical side [...]. He had the amazing ability to cut though things that seemed impossibly complex to the simple core. For example, in 2003, when I was president of the FPA, the board was trying to smooth out some staff issues. I had a conversation with Dick about it, and he cut right to the core: ‘The board has only one employee — the executive director,’ he said. It greatly simplified what we did on the board. Dick was not just a theorist and great thinker, but also a mentor, who gave at all levels, all the time. And he was never done until he was done.”

Susan Bradly, CFP, is founder of the Sudden Money Institute:

“Dick’s passing is sad for all of us, of course, but I hope it causes more people to look at his work. He was in a continuous state of inquiry and development, and he was always ahead of the industry — and the profession. He was a natural leader, but very inclusive. He listened and looked for new members of all the organizations he was affiliated with.

“He encouraged me to look at what I was doing in more of a 360-degree way. I felt a higher level of responsibility to figure out what I was doing and how to do it right. The result for me was the Sudden Money Institute, which was really Dick’s idea. I didn’t know anything about transitions back then. He would give me a hard time and would also encourage me at the same time. It’s worked; we stayed friends for many years.”

Eileen Sharkey, CFP, is a founder of Sharkey, Howes & Javer in Denver:

“Dick was a pioneer and a leader. He related to all kinds of people in all areas of financial planning, and he had a huge overlapping network of folks he influenced.

“He was interested in the meaning of money in people’s lives, which I think will become more mainstream in the future. Dick always wanted to be a catalyst. He certainly made a contribution, but unfortunately, he wasn’t in the mainstream sufficiently to get the accolades he should have gotten.”

Judy Shine, CFP, is founder and president of Shine Investment Advisory Services in Denver and a past FPA board member:

“When I first moved to Denver from New Jersey, I talked to Eileen [Sharkey] and Dick and Larry [Howes]. They wanted me to join them, but I had another commitment. Dick was instrumental with ICFP and IAFP in Denver. He would get me to come to meetings. He put my name up for the ICFP board and talked me into doing it. [...] He inspired me and encouraged me to get involved with the profession, and he plunged me into the movement. He thought that everyone should be a philosopher on money.”

Elissa Buie, CFP, is a partner at Yeske Buie Financial Advisors in San Francisco and a past chair of the FPA:

“One of the most fascinating things on the chats and emails is that everyone has a story about how Dick impacted them. He had a big impact on everyone who knew him. He is the primary reason that I do so much volunteer work in this profession. After we got to know each other, he said he thought I [was] leadership material. So I stood for the ICFP board. Then he suggested that I run for president of ICFP. He gave me the confidence to do that. His loss leaves a huge void for the profession to fill.”

Neal Solomon, CFP, CLU, ChFC, CASL, is managing director and CCO at WealthPro in Gloversville, New York:

“Dick was a wonderful guy. He made me realize that a profession is a calling and a body of knowledge to serve a human need. He pointed out that financial planning fit that description. He also got me to participate in national financial planning organizations, and he wanted us all to figure out the best ways we could help people. To move us forward, he had a keen way of seeing things from a big-picture perspective, such as where financial planning had stumbled and where we needed to go. He loved to argue, and would call me, saying, ‘Here’s something we need to argue about.’ Dick’s passing is a tremendous loss to the financial planning community.”

Elizabeth Jetton, CFP, is founder of Directions for Women in Atlanta and a past FPA president:

“I first read Dick’s ‘Money and Soul’ columns in the ICFP journal in the late ’90s. I reached out as one in search of a more meaningful context for what it means to be and do financial planning, and Dick offered it. Then we became friends, co-seekers as part of the Pioneers group in the early 2000s. Dick helped me see myself as a leader and step into [that role]. He helped us imagine ourselves as professionals with a calling. He expanded the breadth and depth of financial planning. My brother, my friend, my mentor; no one has shaped the true purpose of our work as Dick has.”

During its nearly 50-year history, many individuals have made significant contributions to the financial planning profession. But I can’t think of anyone who has made a bigger impact at so many levels, on so many people, as Dick Wagner. He was a tireless organization leader, a thought leader, a mentor, a motivator and a friend to three generations of financial planners. I doubt that most of us will ever see his like again.

— Read Olivia Mellan’s 2010 interview with Dick Wagner in Future Imperfect, where he called life planning “too smiley-faced.”


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